Norfolk Southern Bloomington District Grain Trains

Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District is now devoid of motor vehicle traffic, but this loss doesn’t necessarily render operations unprofitable. That’s because of heavy grain business loaded online and received from connections. Friday and again Sunday, I caught two grain extras on Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District.

The first video shows a Norfolk Southern grain extra, loaded at Cargill’s Gibson City, Illinois grain terminal, ran to Bement, Illinois (and presumably east from there) on a warm Friday, October 28, 2016. NS 9546-UP7368-NS 7657 had 86 cars. Scenes are at Gibson City (west side on ex-NKP, then performing a “switch-back” on Canadian National’s Gilman Sub), Foosland, an over-pass just north of Mansfield (E 3200 North Rd.) and at Bement, where the Bloomington District joins the Illinois Division mainline.

The second video shows Norfolk Southern Train 55K on Sunday afternoon. The first scene (entire train) took 7 minutes, 40 seconds to go by me, so I spliced off power running by, and put the entire video at the back as “Part 2.” This is probably the first Des Moines grain train for the Iowa Interstate in a month. 9460-9357-2565 led 85 cars.

– David P. Jordan

Rare SD40-2 Pair Leads BNSF’s Peoria Local!

BNSF Railway’s regular Monday M-GALPEI had a rare pairing of SD40-2s 1915 and 1614, in Burlington Northern’s “Cascade Green” and Santa Fe’s “Yellowbonnet” colors, respectively.

With “BNSF” lettering indicating the nearly 20-year-old merger of the two carriers (12/30/96), seeing today’s train was like a trip back in time to the late 1990s.

I shot a mix of stills and video of the 64-car train from Galesburg to just east of Oak Hill. My only complaint is that the 15 empty machinery flatcars (for Caterpillar) weren’t placed on the rear.

– David P. Jordan

Union Pacific Grain Train (with those Ferromex cars)

Thursday, I checked Encompass Grain & Rail Co-Op’s Allen Station facility to see if the Union Pacific had pulled the loaded train or not. Turns out, the crew had arrived about when I did, and began putting the train together a short time later.

It took about three hours for assembly, and the air brake test (not without problems), but I was able to chase the train to Springfield. Scenes are at Allen Station (various vantage points), E. County Rd. 1000 N., Culver, Andrews (using Illinois & Midland Railroad trackage rights) and at W. Carpenter Street in in downtown Springfield.

– David P. Jordan

PIA vs. CIRA: First Six Months of 2016

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These days, airport authorities release passenger traffic figures only if they’re rising. Thus, why we haven’t seen any figures about 2016 traffic at Peoria Int’l Airport (PIA) or Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA).

Fortunately, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics publishes monthly traffic figures for perusal. For proprietary reasons, figures are published after a three-month delay, however. This being October, we now have passenger stats for the first half of 2016.

It should be noted that BTS figures exclude charter traffic, so the numbers are somewhat less than “official” numbers shown in a press release. Nevertheless, they provide us with sufficient data to determine trends. Both PIA and CIRA experienced a declining in passenger traffic.

Peoria’s numbers so far for 2016 are (2015 figures in parentheses)

January 2016 – 43,387 (45,796)
February 2016 – 44,413 (43,417)
March 2016 – 57,284 (59,518)
April 2016 – 49,039 (52,028)
May 2016 – 50,503 (53,072)
June 2016 – 57,180 (58,316)

TOTAL – 301,806 (312,147).

So in the first half of 2016, PIA experienced a 3.3 percent decline in passenger traffic. Hardly suprising given Caterpillar’s cutbacks, and continuing anxiety about future cuts. If the trend continues, PIA might still crack 600,000 passenger this year, especially after American Eagle adds Charlotte flights on November 4.

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Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport saw a 3.4 percent decline in passengers the first half of 2016 (2015 figures in parentheses)

January 2016 – 25,173 (31,142)
February 2016 – 25,252 (27,802)
March 2016 – 32,841 (35,759)
April 2016 – 31,038 (32,763)
May 2016 – 34,508 (32,364)
June 2016 – 35,940 (31,452)

TOTAL – 184,752 (191,282)

The last two months show an increase in traffic. Loss of the Mitsubishi auto plant had to have had a negative impact, but these increases are curious. American Eagle’s third DFW roundtrip began March 3, but passenger traffic declined in that month and April. Perhaps State Farm’s expanded Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix area facilities are generating more business travel to and from Central Illinois? Regardless, I expect 2016’s tally to be less than 400,000 passengers.

– David P. Jordan

110 Ferromex Covered Hoppers…

I saw something unusual this afternoon.

I had chased Canadian National’s Peoria Local out of town, and upon returning heard scanner chatter indicating Union Pacific’s own Peoria train (MPECL) was preparing to depart. I caught the tail end of the UP train dispatcher’s instructions, but did hear the part about waiting for passage of UP 6029 before MPECL’s track warrant from Peoria Jct. went into effect.

I arrived the old Molitor Jct. area (just south of Harmon Highway on Kickapoo Creek Road), and within minutes, the train you see in the video above approached. I did a double take when I saw the markings on the cars, all 110 of them!

Those covered hoppers belong to Mexico’s Ferromex, a 7,500-mile system which is that country’s largest railroad. It is owned by Grupo Mexico (74%) and Union Pacific (26%).

So what is a 110-car train of Mexican rolling stock doing in Illinois? I’ve learned that this was an empty train sent out of Vancouver, Washington to Encompass Grain & Rail Co-Op’s Allen Station elevator (just west of San Jose) for loading. Encompass’s homepage even mentions it.

Currently we have a train scheduled to arrive at Allen Station around 8:30 PM Tuesday, October 11. This is a 110 car train and will require using both receiving legs to load so Allen will need to close while loading.

America’s 2016 grain harvest is going to be a bumper crop, so it appears Union Pacific has borrowed at least one trainset from its Mexican partner to handle the surge in business.

– David P. Jordan

PIA – A History: Expansion & Growth, 1956-1958

The last post in this series covered the period between 1950 and 1956. This one covers the ensuing two years. That’s because a lot happened, which set the stage for decades to come.

LONGER RUNWAY FOR ANG JET FIGHTERS
Runway 12-30, with a northwest-southeast orientation, opened at 4002′ x 100′. In 1947, it was extended to 5000′ and widened to 150′ for operations by the 169th’s P-51 Mustangs. As early as 1948, a USAF general suggested ANG would soon obtain jet fighters, requiring at least 6000′ runway length.

At first, the airport’s 3600′ northeast-southwest runway (4-22) was to be lengthened to 4800′ or 5000′. Unfortunately, issues with mining subsidence and airfield funding delayed these projects, and by the time they were solved, the Korean War consumed funding and supplies which would have enabled runway expansion.

Another issue was Monroe School, which would have to relocate if 4-22 were extended to 6000′ or even 7000′ to accomodate ANG jet fighters. Proposals from late 1950 to build a new 4-22 further north or extend the airport’s north-south runway Z(18-36) to 7000′ were not taken up.

In September 1951, the GPAA decided that 12-30 should be extended to 7000′. Cost was estimated at $2.5 million, and would have to be funded by the federal government. In January 1952, future airport expansion included extending 12-30 to 6800′ with 1000′ of ground on either end, a 1000′ extension of the east-west runway (8-26) and extension of 4-22.

In August 1953, it was suggested the 169th could obtain F-86 Sabre Jets, famous for their role in the Korean War, which ended a month earlier. Deployment to the Peoria base required a 7000′ runway at minimum. By January 1954, when funding looked like it would become available, there were plans to extend 12-30 to 8000′ but with a 1000′ overrun.

Interestingly, the 169th obtained its first jet, a T-33A trainer, in January 1955. Lacking adequate runways at Peoria, the jet was based at Springfield! But help was on the way: In March 1956, a vast expansion project for USAF facilities including the runway extension at Peoria, to be funded by the USAF. Plans now called for extension to 7000′ with a 1000′ overrun.

The 169th acquired its first jet, an F-84 Thunderjet, first of 25, on December 9, 1957. Its T-33A and F-84s arrived Peoria on August 16, 1958 after the 12-30 extension had been completed.

NEW TERMINAL
Airline passenger traffic more than doubled from 1950 (22,903) to 1954 (48,336), so the 5,000-sq. ft. terminal that had opened in 1945 was no longer adequate. Plans to double its size were made public in September 1954. The next month, Ozark Air Lines inaugurated its Peoria-Chicago (Midway) flights, increasing weekday departures from all four carriers to 21. PIA clearly needed a bigger terminal, and something had to be done quickly.

By December 1954, the airport decided a new terminal was necessary and opened bids for the project. A sketch of the proposed new facility was shown to the GPAA in August 1955. It had 37,000 sq. ft. and a five-story control tower. Thanks to Ozark’s new Chicago flights, traffic jumped 40 percent to 68,058 passengers in 1955!

The Peoria Journal Star reported January 1, 1956 that the new terminal would cost $650,000. It would be built in the northwest quadrant of the airfield with access from Maxwell Road. By late spring, construction on the $305,000 terminal apron commenced.

Final approval of terminal plans came in February 1957 and basement was dug and footings were placed that summer. Structural steel for the new building arrived in December that year. Erection commenced in January 1958.

EXPANDING AIR ROUTES
After extending its system to Chicago (Midway) in October 1954, Ozark Air Lines pursued further expansion out of Peoria. This was welcomed by local travelers since American Airlines and Trans World Airlines had no interest in doing so. Byerly Aviation apparently ceased scheduled passenger service after May 1956.

Ozark began a new route linking Peoria with Burlington, Ottumwa and Des Moines on June 17, 1956. Two daily roundtrips originated and terminated at Chicago (Midway), thus increasing Peoria’s service to that city as well. The expansion increased the carrier’s weekday service here to 16 departures.

Service to Minneapolis/St. Paul began April 28, 1957 with a single daily roundtrip via Cedar Rapids (IA) and Rochester (MN). Minnesota’s Twin Cities had nearly a nearly 1.2 million metro population in 1950, and served as main base for Northwest Airlines and North Central Airlines, providing connections to the nation’s northern tier, Alaska and to Asia as well.

The Greater Peoria Airport handle 82,257 passengers in 1956, and 94,915 in 1957. Business was booming, and schedules effective 4/27/58 show Ozark Air Lines operating 19 weekday departures to Chicago (Midway), Des Moines, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis and many smaller points in between with Douglas DC-3s. Indianapolis service was actually via a connection at Springfield (single-plane accommodations may have been dropped in 1954). Trunk carriers American and TWA offered token service with larger, twin-engine, 40-seat propliners.

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UNSOLVED MYSTERY
One thing bugs me about this schedule. Note that TWA’s westbound flight originating at Pittsburgh stopped at Chicago’s O’Hare Field while the eastbound flight stopped at Midway! Neither newspapers nor the Official Airline Guide clear up this possibly anomaly. Here’s what I found.

An article appearing in the Chicago Daily Herald on May 1, 1958, TWA Increases O’Hare Flights By 300 Percent, details new service effective April 27, 1958. Daily flights would grow from two to eight and include a new twin-engine (Martin 404) flight to Peoria and Kansas City. Problem is, this service was already shown in the Official Airline Guide’s March 1958 edition. I’m leaning toward a conclusion that TWA intended to start such service at an earlier date, but did not do so until 4/27/58.

By why offer service to Midway eastbound and O’Hare westbound? Although flights originated and terminated east of Chicago, it is likely most passengers made connections there. I doubt travelers looked forward to transiting one airport enroute to their destination, then having to go through another on the return home.

This had to be confusing for unseasoned travelers, especially when the local media failed to note how service was divided between the two facilities. In fact, when the Peoria Journal Star reported new schedules in its April 25, 1958 edition, no mention was ever made that TWA would switch westbound service to Peoria from Midway to O’Hare two days later!

O’Hare Field opened to commercial airlines in 1955 when a Y-shaped terminal was dedicated. Midway Airport was congested and boxed in between city streets and railroads, precluding expansion. So O’Hare would be Chicago’s future airline stop. But the transition from Midway to O’Hare was slow in the years 1955-1958, and with service divided between the facilities, some airlines paid for their passengers’ transportation between them when necessary to make a connection. Chicago Helicopter Airways made a lot of money doing this. Bus service was also available.

The next installment of this series will jump to January 1960.

– David P. Jordan

Passenger Trains I’ve Ridden – Part XVI – CN’s ex-Missabe Road/North Shore Scenic

A highlight of this year’s Lexington Group meeting in Duluth, Minnesota was the inspection trip over Canadian National’s ex-Missabe Road mainline up to Keenan and return. We then traversed the North Shore Scenic Railroad to Two Harbors and back.

Power for our train was DMIR SD40-3 #403 (on CN’s roster), and DMIR SD18 #193 (owned by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum). Consist was as follows

NSSR 1109 (baggage/power car)
Iowa Pacific “Scenic View” (full-length dome)
GN 1115 (coach owned by museum)
GN 1116 (coach owned by museum)
GN 1250 “Lake of the Isles” (diner owned by museum)
NP “Homestake Pass” (Paxrail dome car)
DMIR “Northland” (business car owned by museum)

This was my first visit to the area. Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin are known as the “Twin Ports,” and though they do not constitute a big city (their combined metro population is 279,000, considerable smaller than Minneapolis/St. Paul’s 3.5 million), but the large harbor, prominent industry, spagetti-bowl highway interchanges and multiple downtown high-rises most certainly qualify it as a major city.

I was impressed by the multiple grain terminals in both Duluth and Superior, as well as those which handle coal, taconite, limestone and salt. The Twin Ports is served by four Class I’s – BNSF, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific – and generates a decent volume of business each day.

It was a good visit for this Peoria guy. I look forward to returning there someday.

– David P. Jordan